Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Cell Phone

I'm gonna level with you guys. My original goal was to write one post per day. I told you my strategy (the routine) of getting home, making dinner and then writing before anything else. This week I came across a snag in my strategy. The All-Nighter. I originally assumed everyone reading my blog would know me, but that is naive now a days so I'll explain what I do. I am an architect. I work long hours for low pay. I like my job and sometimes I like my job more than sleep. Because of this, I am likely to stay awake over night. By Thursday morning of this week, I had finished more hours than most would work in a full week. My new goal is to post 7 post per week. If I get smart, I will write one or two extras and hold them back as I would like to keep a once per day thing if possible.
OK, On to the real post. Cell phones, they're different here. That much should be pretty obvious. During my first few trips to Europe I tried out 3 different things, with the 3rd being the most successful. My first trip, I rented a phone from a US company. Not an awful choice, but a little more pricey than necessary. Second trip, NO phone. I like this method because it meant I wasn't really tethered to anything at all: not time, not people. On the other hand, the off chance that I needed a phone? Out of luck... obviously. The third trip, Dublin, I did a little research before I left. Economically, the best method is to purchase the cheapest cell phone in the country you're going to and just keep it for later trips. In Europe you have a SIM card (like a memory chip) which links you to a specific country, contains your contacts and generates your phone number. If you go to another country in Europe you can swap the chip and use it there. The first day I was in Dublin I went into a phone store at random, found the cheapest phone there and bought it for around 30 Euros including a 10Euro credit.
There are two concepts to understand with a European phone, UN/Locking and "Topping Up."  It is a common practice for mobile service providers to "lock" a phone and make it usable only within their network.  This means if you get a phone through Vodaphone and go to a country without Vodaphone service, its very likely your phone will not work.  There is also a huge market for UNLOCKED phones in Europe.  A lot of times you can buy them from the store unlocked, there are also shady looking places where you can get unlocking done.  Finally, about 10 minutes of GOOGLE searching should provide you with a legal, free, easy way to unlock your phone.  "Topping Up," occurs when you refill the minutes in your phone.  Almost everyone runs their phones on pay-per-minute service and refills when necessary.  You buy a card from almost any corner store and go through a few menus on your phone.  Simple.  Except those menus are only in French or Dutch, and I don't' know French or Dutch.
My phone... I bought my phone locked through Vodaphone.  I moved to Belgium, which doesn't have a Vodaphone representation.  So I did the obligatory 10 minute Google search.  This yielded some interesting information.  Of all the phone manufacturers on the market, Motorola are some of the more difficult phones to unlock.  In addition, my ONE specific phone model is not unlockable by any of the standard means.  Usually you just put in a number on the back of the phone into a software, and the software generates a code to unlock your phone.  People produce software that works for a huge number of phones, and not a single one is compatible with my phone, awesome.  I thought, I'll go roam around and find one of those shady places that will unlock my phone for me.  I go to a phone store, the one I purchased my SIM card in to ask about unlocking phones.  He tells me, "It is illegal to Lock phones in Belgium, so there isn't a large number of options, just this guy down there street."  It is my luck to bring the only unlockable phone to the country that doesn't allow locking to begin with.  I found the guy, realized he didn't speak English and just showed him the phone.  He says, "20 Euro,"  I know this is still 10 -15 Euro cheaper than buying a new phone so just hand it over.  He takes the phone in the back, is gone for 5 minutes and then my phone works.
That is basically the end of the Phone Story.  Though an interesting event occurred a few days later, while I was in my office.  I was walking around and all of a sudden heard an awful and very loud ringing noise.  Everyone, including myself, looks around for this loud noise.  Until I realize that awful noise is centered on my pocket.  One of my co-workers says, "That is your ring? That's horrible."  "I guess that is my phone, no one has ever called me before."


  1. Haha, way to be the smelly, obnoxious kid at camp! JK I would still let you sit next to me on the bus.

  2. hahahahahah that was a fantastic post... what model is the phone?

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  4. so who was it? you can't leave us hanging like that...also, thanks for the phone tips. I bought a phone from Vodaphone in Germany, and I'm not sure if it's locked or not, but my girlfriend tried using it in Scotland, and someone told her that it would work, but every call she made would be coming from Germany (long distance if you're calling Scottish numbers) , I guess unlocking it would solve that?

  5. Unlocking wouldn't solve that, changing the sim card would. As long as you've got the german sim card it will be calling from germany... you should unlock if you'd like to put in a non-vodaphone sim card. Also, it was my phone company calling to tell me about an amazing new service